TURLOCK -- Julia Gonzalez, the 16-year-old Turlock girl who turned up dead in Pedretti Park in December, died of "acute alcohol intoxication," the Stanislaus County coroner's office ruled Wednesday.
Julia's blood-alcohol content registered at 0.52 -- 6½ times the legal threshold for intoxication, said Deputy Corner Kristi Herr-Ah You.
At 5 feet 2 inches tall and about 100 pounds, Julia would have had to drink the equivalent of one pint of 86-proof whisky in an hour to register that high, Herr-Ah You said.
"We're not saying that's what she drank, but that's what you'd have to drink at that weight to get to that level," she said.
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That's equal to 16 drinks in one hour.
Herr-Ah You said there were traces of over-the-counter cold medicine in the toxicology report, but that alcohol was the sole contributing factor in her death.
Vomit was found on the scene. The cause of death has been ruled accidental.
At that level of intoxication, Julia would first have looked very, very drunk, said Dr. Richard Clark, director of toxicology at the University of California at San Diego Medical Center.
She probably slipped into a coma, then stopped breathing or her heart stopped pumping, or both, Clark said.
"As with all sedatives, and alcohol at that level is a heavy sedative, the body slowly shuts down," he said.
Julia lived with her grandmother, Darlene Gonzalez, about three miles from Pedretti Park. She had been reported as a runaway at least twice, but she left the house Dec. 29 on good terms.
Gonzalez said she saw her granddaughter leave the house and the teen had not been drinking before she left.
The cause of her granddaughter's death has left the family with more questions. Family members say they believe someone was with her while she drank the alcohol, but Gonzalez said nobody will shed light on the girl's death, not even her granddaughter's friends.
"We would like to know how she got that way," she said. "I would like some answers."
The teenager said goodbye to her grandmother about 7 p.m. and left with three friends in a car. What happened between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m., when a passer-by found her body, remains unknown, said the lead investigator on the case, Turlock police Detective Brandon Bertram.
"This investigation has been hamstrung from the start because we can't find anyone willing to say they were in Julia's company while she was consuming alcohol or intoxicated -- even from a witness standpoint," Bertram said. "We need to fill that gap between 7 p.m. and 5 a.m."
Bertram said if someone dropped her off at the park in a comatose condition, there's a chance it could be a crime and rise to a level of manslaughter. But, he cautioned, so many variables would have to be met -- such as did they force her to drink and did they know she was unable to care for herself -- that any charge greater than a misdemeanor is highly unlikely.
And even if an adult knowingly gave or bought her the alcohol, he said, the likely charge is a misdemeanor: contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
"Just because someone died doesn't automatically make it a felony," Bertram said.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris agreed. Providing alcohol to a minor, which results in death, or neglecting a friend, which results in death, is "very factual specific" and "a nuanced area of the law," he said.
With high school graduations, proms and the spring weather upon us, Herr-Ah You said she hopes Julia's death serves as a reminder to young people looking to celebrate with a drink.
"If your friend is so drunk they're unconscious, you take them to the hospital," she said. "Unfortunately, there are cases where friends don't know what to do. Well, the most important thing to do if your friend is completely incapacitated is to call an ambulance."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2391.